For the first time since the end of the 2018 season, I wanted the Yankees to re-sign Brett Gardner. I thought the team should move on from the longest-tenured Yankee in the two offseasons prior to this past one, but because of the inevitable injuries to Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks, the frightening idea of Mike Tauchman or Greg Allen becoming everyday players on the Yankees when the Aarons make their annual trips to the injured list and the Yankees’ self-imposed salary cap, Gardner became a necessity.
The Yankees finally came to terms on a new deal to bring back the last holdover from the other side of River Ave. and the last holdover from the 2009 championship team. The good news is the Yankees have an insurance policy on the Aarons. The bad news is Aaron Boone won’t hesitate to use Gardner to put a dent into Clint Frazier’s playing time and plate appearances.
Last week, on the first day of spring training, Boone was asked if he sees Frazier as the starting left fielder for the Yankees. Here’s what he said:
“I do. Clint has obviously come a long way in every aspect of his game and certainly earned his place last year when obviously nothing was given to him. He had to earn everything really the last couple of years … Last year really proved he was ready to grab an everyday role on this team.”
The last time the Yankees played, Frazier wasn’t the team’s starting left fielder. Despite posting a .905 OPS, single-handedly carrying the offense when Judge and Giancarlo Stanton once again missed extended time and when Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres couldn’t hit, and improving his defense to the point he was named a Gold Glove finalist, Frazier rode the bench for both games against Cleveland and the last three games of the ALDS against Tampa Bay. Of the Yankees seven playoff games, Frazier started two of them as Boone started and played Gardner over him. So Frazier “proved he was ready to grab an everyday role with the team” so well last year that he wasn’t an everyday palyer in the postseason.
The last time the Yankees played Frazier wasn’t the team’s starting left fielder, so how did he suddenly earn the job now? Were there real, meaningful games over the last four months no one is aware of? And what happens when Gardner inevitably re-signs with the Yankees? Does Gardner continue to start in left field forever no matter how badly his skills erode and decline? How can someone go from not being the starting left fielder and not playing in October to earning the job by mid-February?
Boone’s right in that last year Frazier proved he was ready to grab an everyday role on this team. And then in the biggest games of the season, Boone didn’t play him. With the season on the line in Game 5 against the Rays, Boone chose to use Mike Ford to pinch hit for Kyle Higashioka over Frazier. The same Mike Ford who was sent to the alternate site ate the beginning of September for lack of performance. Ford wasn’t good enough to be a Yankee in September, but he was good enough to get pinch hit over Frazier in October.
I don’t believe Frazier will actually be the team’s “everyday” left fielder in 2021. I think he will play at that position more than any other Yankee this season, but not because he’s cemented as the “everyday” player for that position. If the Yankees were completely healthy, I still think Boone inexplicably sits Frazier against right-handed starting pitching and plays Gardner in left field those days. He did it in the 2020 postseason, so why wouldn’t he do it again in the 2021 regular season? Nothing has changed since then.
I wanted the Yankees to bring Gardner back, if he were to be used how he should be used: as the fourth outfielder. If he’s used instead of Frazier, I’ll regret ever wanting him back.
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